We watched both hours of this creepy little show, and at the end of those episodes, we still aren’t sure if we like it. It has a lot of elements that we enjoy. We like the horror and supernatural elements, the mystery, most of the cast, the Blair Witch Project-y filming, and the speed at which answers are dispensed. The story was decent. We think the failure of the characters to grab us in the first two hours is what made this show tedious to watch at times. We just didn’t enjoy watching it as much as we wanted to, even though we decided that it was objectively pretty good. We are going to keep watching. It’s different than almost anything else on TV, and the first season will only be seven episodes (eight if you count these as two, even though they aired the same night), so we should probably give it the full season. Maybe the characters will become people to us soon. We admire this show's weirdness.
Dr. Emmet Cole, a TV naturalist, disappeared in the Amazon and was declared dead. His wife, Tess, gets a deal with the network to fund her journey to find her husband, as long as they get to tape everything…and as long as the Cole family’s only child, the grown Lincoln, goes with them. Lincoln is estranged from his father (because all the long trips into the wild for TV took the father away from his family) and would rather stay home and finish medical school, believing his father to be dead. He can’t refuse his mother’s pleas and finds himself on a boat, on a river, in the Amazon, looking for his father.
Our first complaint is that Lincoln could definitely be hotter. The actor needs to eat some cheeseburgers. Our second complaint is that Tess (generic widow name) is played by Leslie Hope, who annoyed us as Jack Bauer’s wife in 24. She does a fair bit of screaming in The River and we don’t appreciate it. She is also too thin to really be attractive, but at least she has hair on this show.
Along for the ride is a produce, Clark, that Tess probably boned and a camera crew. Clark is played by another 24 (and Lipstick Jungle!) alum, Paul Blackthorne, who used to be decent looking, but age isn’t doing him any favors. At least he still has his British accent. At the last minute, the gang is joined by Lincoln’s childhood friend and daughter of the cameraman who went missing with Dr. Emmet Cole. Her name is Lena, and she’s a pretty blonde. She does not annoy us, as you might expect. Nope, all that is saved for screeching, manipulative, cheating Tess.
There are two more players on this boat who need a mention. There is the Captain, Emilio Valenzuela (pretty last name). He worked with Dr. Cole in the past and has a psychic daughter named Jahel, who is also beautiful. Jahel speaks no English. The network and Tess have hired a professional bodyguard named Kurt Brynildson. He is very German, and yet his accent doesn’t come across as gay, like most German accents. If we had to do any guy on this boat, it might be him, quite frankly.
Lena helps them find Dr. Emmet Cole’s abandoned ship, the Magus. Inside, they find a mysterious force that tears Lena’s leg. She needs stitches. Through psychic Jahel and the examination of the evidence on the boat, they decide that the force is the ghost of Emmet Cole’s last producer, Cam Travers. The ghost destroys the group’s rafts and engines. Uh oh. Sh*t just got real. Everyone panics, and it’s funny. They figure out that the reason the ghost was encased in the Magus was because Dr. Emmett Cole trapped it in the ship in the first place. That was their solution, so our crew decides that they need to do a blood ritual and re-trap it.
During the ritual, Tess screams at the ghost, asking if her husband is still alive. She gets a reply: Yep. Dr. Emmett Cole is alive. Lincoln changes his tune of reluctance and is ready to plunge forward in the search for is dad. Lena brought 104 archive tapes of the mission that brought Dr. Emmett Cole to the Amazon anyway. He was looking for a) real magic and b) something called The Source, and the journey involved shamanism and magic and other weirdness. The German bodyguard has orders to take Dr. Emmett Cole out if the doctor has found The Source. We don’t know who the orders are from.
In the second hour, one of Dr. Emmett Cole’s trained dragonflies goes into Jahel’s mouth so that the doctor can use her as a mouthpiece to talk to his wife. Dr. Emmet Cole tells Tess that she needs to give up the search and go home. Something bad happened to him, but he wants his wife out of it. One thing we do like about Tess is her determination to find this guy. The gang goes into the jungle and finds a tree covered in dirty, creepy dolls. Of course, they move a little. There’s also a really great shot of a small monkey holding a doll face in front of its own. It turns around, removes the doll face, and makes its monkey noises. That was kind of a scary moment, even though it doesn’t sound scary. Dude, the dolls are creepy. We’re telling you.
The group decides that this is the perfect place to set up camp. This tree has to do with a spirit and the dolls are gifts to appease its anger or whatever. Lincoln sees his old teddybear hanging from the tree and we get a flashback to Dr. Emmett Cole giving his son a serious…and creepy…talk. The gist is 1) there’s a pendulum of life and death, 2) someone might stop it from swinging, and 3) Lincoln might be the child strong enough to do something. Then Dr. Emmett Cole gives Lincoln a necklace, but we see later that Lena might be the person destined for this vague, mysterious greatness.
Lincoln takes his teddybear back and this angers the tree. The spirit tries to steal Lincoln’s mommy by pulling her into a muddy stream. Lincoln and the others try to put the teddybear back, but it is rejected and falls off the tree many times, even though they tie it on securely. Lincoln hears the legend of the spirit of the tree and figures out what he has to do, which is dig up a corpse and throw it in the river. Tess is pushed back from underground, alive. This whole tree thing was pretty entertaining and just the fun kind of scary that produces a few jumps and a few good laughs. It’s not campy enough that you can’t take it seriously enough to watch, but you can tell the show isn’t taking itself too seriously either. It's nice to see a horror show that doesn't just go right for shock and is building to something.
Episode grade (for both): B